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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas A&M outfielder Jace Laviolette (17) robs a home run from Florida infielder Cade Kurland (4) in the top of the ninth inning during Texas A&M’s game against Florida at the NCAA Men’s College World Series at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Sunday, June 15, 2024. (Hannah Harrison/The Battalion)
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June 16, 2024

The Fall of Auburn

Before the beginning of the 2015 season, the SEC media voted the Auburn Tigers as the 2015-16 SEC champions with 96 of the 225 possible votes by season’s end. Well, let’s just say that the media missed this one.
Junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson waited his turn behind now NFL cornerback Nick Marshall. While Marshall was busy running and throwing the Tigers back into the national spotlight, Johnson was quiet, simply waiting his shot to pilot Gus Malzahn’s offense.
If you would’ve told Auburn fans that their beloved Tigers would have Jeremy Johnson with two years of experience in Gus Malzahn’s offense along with the acquisition of former Florida head coach Will Muschamp for a three-year, $5.1 million deal to become the highest paid assistant in college football, they’d say a 6-2 or a 7-1 season could be in the realm of possibility. I’m sure they weren’t thinking 4-4.
So, what happened to the Tigers?
Being ranked 73rd in the country in rushing and 95th in passing certainly doesn’t help. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson struggled mightily in his debut as starter against Louisville team in Atlanta, throwing for 137 yards and three interceptions. The defense made some plays for the then No. 6 ranked football team in the country, which quieted some of the Johnson critics.
The second game of the season against Jacksonville State was almost a complete disaster. Down 20-13 with less than six minutes to go in regulation, the Tigers were in danger of suffering one of the biggest upsets in college football history. Auburn pulled out the 27-20 victory in overtime, but more holes began to show in the Tigers. Maybe they’re not the team that the SEC media predicted them to be.
Then came Leonard Fournette.
The wheels fell off in Death Valley as Will Muschamp’s defense witnessed the coming out party of Leonard Fournette. The Heisman trophy candidate gashed the Auburn defense for 228 yards and multiple highlight-reel plays, including crumpling Tiger defensive back Blake Countess at the 10-yard line en route to one of his three rushing touchdowns. The defense struggled to tackle in the open field and after a 45-21 loss, the Tigers became unranked after three weeks.
Malzahn’s offense was sputtering and keeping the defense on the field for too long. He decided a change was needed and Jeremy Johnson, the same Jeremy Johnson that was at a 10 to 1 odds to win the Heisman trophy according to Las Vegas before the season. After three games, Johnson was benched for redshirt freshman Sean White.
White, a highly-touted recruit out of Hollywood, Florida, was given the keys to the Malzahn offense against Mississippi State and has shown some flashes in the five games that he’s started. He hasn’t turned the ball over, only throwing two interceptions in comparison to Johnson’s five in his first two starts. Running back Peyton Barber has been carrying the ball well, rushing for 120 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-46 loss in four overtimes on the road in Arkansas.
What can’t be discounted was the loss of senior D’haquille “Duke” Williams via dismissal on Oct. 4 after a history of altercations and violations of team rules. Williams was expected to be one of the top targets for the Tigers after leading the team in catches (45) and touchdown receptions (5).  With Williams out, the receiving corps has to depend on lesser experienced players, and young players just need a bit of time to develop.
With freshman and inexperienced upperclassmen getting their first taste of significant playing time, the main battle is inconsistency. With experience comes reading the game better and when that happens, players don’t have to think as much on the field. They can just react. Sean White will get better with every game he plays and so will the Tiger defense. Gus Malzahn’s Tigers have definitely improved since the debacle in Death Valley and it seems all they really needed was time and game reps.

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